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Physical Injuries & Environmental Hazards

Veterans may experience many types of physical injuries can result during combat or other service-related incidents.

 

Common physical problems include hearing loss, vision loss, broken bones, soft tissue shrapnel wounds, burns, spinal cord injuries and other nerve damage resulting in paralysis or loss of sensation, limb loss or traumatic brain injury. Veterans may have to adapt to chronic pain or adjust their performance of activities of daily living due to these injuries.

 

Since Sept. 11, 2001, an estimated 60,000 US military service members have been injured in combat during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Nearly 45,000 (75 percent) of all combat injuries are caused by improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs. Approximately two out of five service members with combat injuries (40 percent) have suffered fractures, traumatic amputations, and injuries to the spine.

 

Information and fact sheets about each of these problems can be researched by topic at various websites. These resources include noteworthy past and current research and health care services provided within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Search for information under each major category and add the phrase “VA Research”. For example, “VA Research hearing loss”. Other examples are VA Research vision loss, VA Research spinal cord injuries, VA Research traumatic brain injury, and VA Research prosthetics.

 

One of every 10 Veterans alive today is believed to have been seriously injured at some point while serving in the military, and three-quarters of those injuries occurred in combat. For many of the more than 2 million U.S. Veterans wounded, the physical and emotional consequences of their wounds have endured long after they have left the military, according to a Pew Research Center survey completed in 2011.

 

Veterans who suffered major service-related injuries are more than twice as likely as uninjured Veterans to say they had difficulties readjusting to civilian life. They are almost three times as likely as other veterans to report they have suffered from post-traumatic stress. And they are less likely in later life to be in overall good health or to hold full-time jobs. Hearing loss and tinnitus are extremely common in Veterans. Limb amputation has been a common injury occurring in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Veterans may have also been exposed to a wide range of chemical, physical, and environmental hazards during military service. Veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War or in Afghanistan were exposed to several chemical hazards.

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There are several diseases and maladies associated with environmental hazards from military service with U.S. Veterans. The major areas categorized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are:

 

  • Chemicals (Agent Orange related diseases, Camp Lejeune contaminated water)

  • Radiation (nuclear weapons, X-rays)

  • Air Pollutants (burn pit smoke, dust)

  • Occupational Hazards (asbestos, lead)

  • Warfare Agents (chemical and biological weapons)

 

For a further list and explanation of current environmental hazards tracked by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, visit https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/

In addition to these hazards, many Veterans have expressed concerns about long-term side effects from vaccinations or medications they were mandated to take during their military service.  A discussion about these concerns with related information and resources can be found at the Vaccinations & Medications page with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

 

All Veterans who were exposed to environmental hazards during their military service should talk to their health care provider. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a local VA Environmental Health Coordinator at each major VA medical center to help Veterans receive more information and to document their exposures.

 

A summary and links to the 2011 Pew Research Center survey on Veteran injuries can be found here: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/11/08/for-many-injured-veterans­-a-lifetime-of-consequences/

 

An exceptional article in the Journal of Military and Veterans' Health (Australia) was written in 2012 for health care providers.  It described limb amputations from allied forces' military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can be found at https://jmvh.org/article/trends-in-traumatic-limb-amputation-in-allied-forces-in-iraq-and-afghanistan/